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Published On: Mon, Jul 11th, 2016

The dark age of Thai higher education: A conversation with Prof. Hongladarom

Rattana Lao (nsnbc) : Everything and every issue is divided in Thailand except one thing: education. Everybody, Left – Right and Center, Conservatives and Liberals share in common the believe that problems related to Thailand educational system are endemic and fundamental change is needed. Soon.

Main auditorium_Kasetsart University_Bangkok_ThailandHow? That’s the question.

Professor Soraj Hongladarom, the Professor of Philosophy at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University has succinct idea of what went wrong and how to fix the badly broken system. The following excerpt is the conversation between Rattana Lao and Professor Hongladarom on the dark age of Thai higher education.

Rattana Lao [RL]: Is Thai higher education in the dark age?

Professor Soraj Hongladarom [SH]: Well, it’s always in the dark age. But unlike Europe conception of “the dark age”, it assumes that there was Greek, Roman, Enlightenment or so-called “bright age”. But in Thailand, there has not experienced any “bright age”, not as far as I remember. The status quo has always been like this, it’s the culture of Thai higher education.

RL: What do you mean “culture of Thai higher education”?

SH: Culture is what has been done to become habit. So the culture of granting immunity to elder professors so that they have a feeling of doing no wrong is part of the culture. The culture makes it easy for senior professors to have their ego inflated.

RL: What do you think are the major factors impeding the development of Thai higher education?

SH: Everything can be explained by one term: form over substance. In Thai higher education, there is a high compliance to favor the “form” rather than “substance.” If we are going to organize a conference, instead of paying attention to the quality or details of the content of knowledge related matter, Thai people generally care about the food and the flowers.. This culture runs deeps and influences every facet of Thai higher education. In graduation, you see people spend a lot of money and attention on their hair and their make up or the neatness of their gown. But that’s not the crux of higher education. It should not be.

RL: You mentioned the word “form”, that reminds me of the 137 so-called “quality indicators” that Thai universities and academics have to comply. Is that a problem? Has it always been like this and do you think they benefit the university?

SH: It was not like this before university became “autonomous” or “independent entity from the state.” Things were simpler – the Head ordered or delegated your responsibility, you do it. But since universities get caught up in these number games, there is a high aspiration from all administrators to “do more and be more.” Realistically, they want to “be more” but I do not think they actually believe in it or try to do anything to materialize it. For example, there is a talk to internationalize Chulalongkorn – to increase the ratio of foreign students but there is not much going on to make that happen. It’s more rhetoric rather than reality.

RL: Talking about Chulalongkorn, the university is celebrating its 100th anniversary, what’s your thought on the celebration?

SH: Ten years ago there was a lot of buzz that the university would celebrate its centennial and many things should happen. We talked about higher ranking in the world standard. We talked about becoming international and research university, but most of it are “talks.”

RL: What do you see as the obstacles to these policy aspiration?

SH: There is no accountability. Everybody wishes this and that but when things do not materialize, there is no one person responsible for it.

RL: Is there hope at all? Chulalongkorn is the eldest institution in the country.

SH: Well, there is hope. There are many individuals who are exceptional and internationally recognized. The university needs to do a better job at linking these “bright spots” together, providing professional networks and offering institutional supports. So far, the university is too late in the game. How much can one academic do?

RL: Seriously.

Rattana Lao – nsnbc 11.07.2016

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